School districts pleading Republican lawmakers for more state funding on education

MADISON, Wis. — A handful of school district officials in Dane County took to the steps of the Capitol Monday morning demanding that lawmakers allocate more money towards education in the proposed state budget.

District officials said without more state funding, they would have to cut programs and courses that could widen the achievement gap.

Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Dr. Carlton Jenkins said the impact on his district alone would be nearly $3 million. 

“Sure, we are going to look as we have in all the districts across the state to make it work. But should we be in a situation where we are having to make it work?” Jenkins said.

Governor Tony Evers proposed giving K-12 schools $1.6 billion over the next two years. Republican lawmakers threw out his plans and instead proposed allocating $128 million to schools, citing federal assistance that would help make up for the lack of funding in the state budget.

Beaver Dam Republican Assembly Co-Chair Representative Mark Born said via email, “As we have said over and over, when crafting the K-12 budget we took into consideration the massive $2.4 billion in federal funding coming to our school districts. This equates to an average of $2,898 per student. On top of that, we still increased funding by nearly $100 million to our schools for student mental health and special education. Under our plan, schools that have been largely in-person over the last year are guaranteed to receive a minimum of $781 per student, more than the per student increase in the last budget, which Governor Evers signed.”

School District officials said while there may be money allocated through federal and state funding, there are limitations as to what that money can be spent on.

Wisconsin Policy Forum Researcher Director Jason Stein explained,” Because the revenue limits on school districts are not being loosened much, what they have to do is they have to take that state aid and use it to lower local school property taxes.”

Historically, school districts have relied on taxpayer dollars through referendums to continue the status quo to keep up with basic operations in schools. School district officials said they don’t want to rely on the taxpayer’s pocketbook to keep funneling money to the schools when they feel the state has enough money to provide students with everything they need to succeed.

Stein explained that schools are not going to use one-time money designated for pandemic response and recovery to fund ongoing needs because the funds are temporary and will eventually run out. Stein said schools are looking for a committed investment from the state, signed into law.

The Assembly will vote on the budget next week. Evers can use his partial veto powers to modify the budget when it comes to his desk or reject it entirely.